Ulrich Scheel

During the last couple of years I worked as a live-cartoonist in several theatre projects. Along with the actors I stood on the stage, and commented the performance – naturally with a lot of irony and sarcasm.

The inner labyrinth of „K.“

Where have all the pranks gone? Live-drawings for the chamber opera „Keyner nit“.


But the last time it was all different: „The Castle“ by Kafka was scheduled – an irritating parable about the nonsense of human existence, and also a piece, in which any kind of humour is misguided.
Initially I had a bout at drunk postmen and ambiguous scenes behind a pub counter. But then our director Sven Holm imposed a ban of humour. We needed a new visual language, that is appropriate to the story. Of course this meant a challenge, since Kafka’s book is very abstract and misses conventional images. Furthermore we didn’t want to be narrative, in the sense of humanizing the protagonist „K.“ or showing the castle as a classic type of architecture.

K.“ alias „Zero Man“, born from the snow.


Kafka’s „Castle“ is ranked as an autobiographic book, but the story of „K.“ is universal. It tells about futile hope, hybris and masochism. „K.“ reminded me of „Ponio“, a character, that I once designed for a comic novel. „Ponio“ was a bald lackey – indeed a noble guy, but one who has no human features, except pupils. Based on this dumb executor I formed the „Zero Man“, an alterable figure that can be a snow flake, an animal, a spectator, „K.“ himself and also „Frieda“ (K.’s mistress).

„Lichtgreif“ and his lackey „Ponio“. Character designs for my comic novel “Pili Komashko”.


Along with Ines Hu, the assistant dramaturge, I developed motifs to make the „Zero Man“ alive and illustrate the scenario. At the very beginning of the performance I drew the spectators as a swarm of „Zero Moths“, buzzing around a light bulb. „K.“ alias „Zero Man“ appeared as a levitating body – without any hold or goal, but always dressed like a banker. It took us a long time to find a shape for the castle. In the end we decided to show it as a technical formation, which reminded us of a brain. The last drawing consisted of a giant „Zero Man“ face, that I slowly hatched to a portrait of „Frieda“. By doing this, the heteronomous „Zero Man“ became an individual person.

Moths, to the light! This drawing was projected onto a firewall, at a size of 33×50 ft.

The castle itself is a grotesque brain construction.

An audience of „Zero Men“…

…and their projection onto an empty audience hall, which served as a stage set (photo © Thomas Aurin).

Das Schlussbild: Die 15-minütige Verwandlung des “Nullmenschen” in Frieda.